Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Almost Night

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Outside the Sea of Galilee

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The Artist Corner is Tzfat

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I think this was overlooking Tzfat also

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Citadel Park

Spring has finally sprung here in Colorado. The air is warm and heavily scented with blooming things and the feeling of coming alive , and my dogs have finally decided that they would rather be outside the house than in-thank goodness! Every spring, I'm certain that it is my favorite time of year, until Autumn arrives and I switch sides again. I guess it just means that I'm happy in the space that I'm currently in.

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This was an old cemetery we found outside of Tiberius. There were huge, ornate, marble tombstones complete with awnings to keep off the sun, sometimes next to a humble, dilapidated old tomb, weathered and black, with crumbling concrete. Many were piled high with small stones. The stones traditionally take the place of flowers, symbolizing, among other things, the permanence of memory.

 "There is something suiting the antiquity and solidity of Judaism in the symbol of a stone. In moments when we are faced with the fragility of life, Judaism reminds us that there is permanence amidst the pain. While other things fade, stones and souls endure." -Rabbi David Wolpe

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Citadel Park
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We hiked to a hill above Tzfat (Safed, Zefat etc) to see the ruins of an old crusader fort (in its day the largest castle fort in the Middle East.) The fort sits at the highest point in Safed, the highest city in Israel. I met a man who worked for the archaeology department. He immediately started taking me around the site telling me what to photograph and giving me a all the information he thought I should know.

He was quite sure that Moses and his son Shem used to live here. And also that Iran was spying on the location and if we stood in just the right spot we could flip them the bird. (I will neither confirm nor deny reports that someone may have done just that.)

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An unknown person

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 Another fellow, a Russian Jew this time, found Chris and was doing his best with limited English to perform as a proper tour guide. He took us into the cave because we had to experience the sound. It was pitch black and we found our way by hands on the wall, trying not to stumble. The path opened up into a chamber of sorts, with a small hole at the top where a bit of light was coming through. Maybe shaped like a huge cistern. He began to softly sing in the darkness, a hauntingly beautiful sound that made you feel like you were in a holy place. The acoustics were incredible.

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Then I took a picture. The flash illuminated the room showing off graffiti and an old tattered mattress with the springs poking out, which did spoil the mood a little.

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Nearing Sunset

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dog Perfume, Coffee, and a Shepherd Boy

The dog came inside tonight after rolling in something especially pungent. I tried to wash her down but it only made the smell stronger and she started shaking her fur, swirling little droplets of stink onto my bed. Not cool, Ella. She's sleeping in the garage tonight, and hopefully taking this little time out to reconsider where she finds her perfume.

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I have two quick stories, because I'm ready to put this day to bed. This picture is from the Israel Museum. We went because Aidan and Chris love museums, and Chloe and I love Aidan and Chris (but not museums so much). We walked in, discovered how much the admission was (I had been misreading Frodo's advice, and thought it was free-definitely not free) and then had a brief family meeting over coffee addressing how important it actually was to see the dead sea scrolls. It wasn't that important, so we drank yummy coffee, snickered at the loud American who announced to the world that that apple strudel had his name on it, and went to the gift shop instead.

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Shepherd Boy
We saw this guy as we passed through the West Bank on the way to the Dead Sea. There was a brief period of cacophony in the car over the observance of an actual shepherd with actual sheep while I demanded for Chris to slow down so I could get a picture. He was carrying a stick with a bell on it, and when he pointed in a direction all of the sheep obediently followed. Now, if you are aware of Chloe's love affair with sheep and her life goal to grow up and marry a sheep farmer, you can imagine how exciting this moment was.  He noticed us too as we slowed to a crawl in our mint green rental car with my camera lens sticking out the window as I stole his picture. He began waving and shouting at me so we pulled over up the road (after another period of cacophony in the car) because we certainly didn't want to offend our very first shepherd boy with his demand for baksheesh. Aidan ran back with some coins and after that I'm pretty sure we could have been Facebook buddies. He was all smiles and waves until we were far off into the distance.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Almost Black and White

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Old Things in Jerusalem

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Sentries over the Western wall

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When Aidan was in first grade, he asked the librarian at school for books on the Holocaust. She told him they didn't have any. When he found some on the shelf and tried to check them out, she took them away and told him they were for older kids.
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The Holocaust Museum and Memorial
His heart has always been torn by the helpless and the hurting. I remember when he was just a wee little guy playing with his cars. He lined them all up for a car sale, and then first began choosing the broken ones; the lopsided ones missing wheels with chipped paint and broken plastic. "I'm choosing these ones first, Mom, because no one else will want them."
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The Righteous Among the Nations Walk of Remembrance
One of my heroes, Corrie Ten Boom.

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Chloe is a fighter. She cannot stand injustice, or bullies. We had to walk quickly through the latter part of the museum because after a while her heart could not take any more. She kept asking me "Why?" because she couldn't grasp how such an enormous evil could have been allowed to happen.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.
-Martin Niemoller
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Wash over Bethesda

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In Jerusalem
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Jaffa Port

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Singing Stairway to Heaven
Israel, Jerusalem especially, was a mixture of throat catching beauty and the stark contrast of conflict. It held peace and turmoil in both hands. Walls can't share the stories they've heard, but instead stand as silent witnesses to both beauty and pain. The reality of a world whose humans have played their parts with bravery and cruelty, peace, suffering and hope.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Soldiers, Cats and Rusty Metal

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Mr. Darcy's Doppelganger
I doubt that any of the cities that we visited in Israel had a mouse problem. There were street cats everywhere. Some were gnarly and fierce looking. Lots were timid and fearful. And there were a few kings of the street who owned the place and allowed/demanded affection. We noticed piles of kibble in alley ways which explained the sleek, well fed look that was more common than not.

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Soldiers and a friendly street cat
Soldiers were everywhere as well; many were carrying weapons and my newly crowned 13 year old was barely trying not to stare as he outlined all the details of the weaponry. I'm not sure how he knew what a grenade launcher looked like, but I'll take his word for it. In his defense, he did decide not to take his I Love Bacon shirt to Israel. Not that that has anything to do with the subject at hand, but I thought I should throw it in somewhere.

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In Jerusalem
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This is a tank on a truck which is obvious, but the spacing for pictures looks better if you add a caption.

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Something Rusty

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More Rusty Things.

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Not really rusty, but a fun gate nonetheless.
The End...Or not, but enough for today because I have to head off to soccer practice to teach some sweet, squirrely girls how to play soccer.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bread on the Water

I'm so stiff from my workout this morning that I may not be able to get out of this chair. Life is in full swing around here. Aidan and Chloe are back in soccer. Chris and I are coaching Chloe's team which is super fun, but makes our evenings feel like a relay race. Aidan came home from strings camp with a sprained wrist, which proves how dedicated of a cello student he is...or makes a point about guys horsing around in the gym contesting who can get the highest on a human pyramid.

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The Sea of Galilee outside Tiberius
What this picture carefully leaves out is the piles of trash around my feet (and how much fun Chris and I were not having communicating at that moment). Apparently littering isn't as taboo in Israel as in Colorado. The crunchy hippie in me was itching to grab a trash bag and have an Earth Day. There were several fisherman standing on the shores throwing in nets using flatbread as bait. They attached the smaller fish the net caught to a line on a pole, casting into the deeper water. The fishermen politely ignored my staring ( I was trying to stare unobtrusively, but they were fishing in the Sea of Galilee!) while Chris tried to refrain the younger set from "helping" by throwing rocks into the water to "scare the fish into the net". I'm sure they were grateful when we left.

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Safed, Israel
I love old doors. Sometimes they led to interesting shops, and sometimes they led to homes. Since the signs were in Hebrew, we weren't always sure which was which. A few times wethought we were following the sign to a store, only to wander into someone's living quarters.  We smiled and said "Sorry!" a lot.

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Safed, Israel
Most people have asked if we were going/went with a tour. We are not really tour bus kind of people. We much prefer to stumble around on our own, making friends and memories in a more haphazard way.  Life is like that, messy and haphazard as we try to get it right. But I'd rather take that set of adventures than a cultured, sterile, safe environment any day.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Frodo's Guide to the Galaxy

Our Fodor's travel guide was quickly dubbed Frodo's Guide to the Galaxy by our smart aleck clever son, and "What does Frodo say?"  became the byword for all things.  And although Frodo was quite helpful in many areas, he could have prepared us a little more fully for our first trip to Carmel Market.

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Carmel Market
I'm not sure what we could have done to stick out any more. I was carrying a huge, yellow camera bag, and we looked and acted like wide-eyed tourists just off the plane. Not that there is anything wrong with that, because that is exactly what we were, but still, it cuts down on bargaining power.

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The Spice Vendor
We did all right in the first stand. They lured us in with racks and rows and rows of beautiful pastries. I think we probably took one of each. The cost was based on weight and it was a very respectable price of 12NIS (about 4$). At this point we were feeling pretty good; possibly also on a sugar high and a caffeine rush from our (first) coffee stop.

 The spice vendor spotted us right away.

"Come, come," she beckoned us, and we obediently came. Immediately she grabbed our hands and began pinching spices  into our palms for us to taste all the while using her limited English to tell us how amazing they were. Then her husband got into the action. He came over, with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, and began a second round of spices into our hands. "This is good, this is good. Yes?" It was hard to keep from laughing a little bit as the back of my mind wandered to our sanitized Farmer's Markets with little tooth picks in the samples so no one touches any of the food, and everything is done with the utmost respect for cross contamination. Not only were they grabbing spices with their open hands, they were encouraging us to do so as well if we wanted to try something. We walked away with two large bags of something spice related.

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Turkish Delight
I would like to preface the next story with a little disclaimer: we are hardly a family of cutthroat business people at any time. We are horrible at making money on a garage sale because we usually end up talking ourselves down, or giving things away for free if we think someone needs something.

After walking a bit more up the way, a squat old woman spotted me, came up and grabbed my arm. She dragged me outstretched to her stack of flat bread and shoved my hand into the middle of the pile. "See? Warm!" Her English was even more limited than the spice lady. The bread was indeed warm, and kind of spongy feeling. I thought that I should probably buy some since I had just touched it, and held up my hand for 2 pieces.  Instead, she grabbed a stack and shoved it into my hands saying "No, no, you take this many!" and then gleefully announced a price of 35NIS. We stood there slightly bewildered because we had just bought all those pastries for 12NIS, but Chris dutifully pulled the money out of his pocket and started to count. She looked at the pile of coins he was sorting, pronounced it to be good and then took the whole lot from his hand. Then she asked if he had any dollars! Uh, no. No dollars. I think she felt a little bad so she pulled out a pancake like thing and added it to my stack to even the score a bit. As we started to walk away, she began filling a bag with rolls and beckoning Aidan to "Come, come!". This time we turned and ran.

"Don't make eye contact; just look away." were my new instructions to the kids. We spent the rest of our trip laughing at ourselves about how culturally unprepared we were. But really, since the gulf between us was probably quite large, we didn't mind getting ripped off.  The bread was delicious, by the way.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


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Jaffa at sunset
Traveling is sort of like entering a dream. Or time traveling, where you open a book and it magically transports you to another place. But when you come home, everything is in its place the way you left it, even though you feel different somehow, like you've had adventures and are stepping out of a hazy dream. And you feel like things should have changed with you, to reflect where you have been, except the dishes are still in the dishwasher, the glass is there, where you last placed it, and everything acts as if no time has passed at all.

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Stones on the beach
If you could enter a dream, Israel is not a bad place to start. It was the Sabbath when we arrived in Tel Aviv, at one in the morning, and we promptly went to sleep until sometime mid day. Then we started walking, because we were hungry and didn't want to pay the 55 dollars a person for Shabbat lunch at our hotel.

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The call to prayer

We bought food at a open air cafĂ© crowded with people. It took us a bit to understand the protocol. We were politely considering where the non existent line might be in the swarm of people so we could properly queue up, except others kept shoving in front of us waving their orders. Chris finally got down to business and elbowed his way to the counter to order our shawarma. A little word about shawarma. It's kind of like a burrito, but only in the way that a beaver is like a unicorn. They both have four legs I guess. First they stuff a pita with things like hummus, pickled onions and beets, cabbage, and tahini dressing. Then, they take meat that has been slowly cooking on a spit and thinly shave off pieces to stuff into the pita.  I wish I could properly describe exactly how wonderful it was, but imagine entering your happy place in a chariot of spices, and it was sort of like that.

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Old Jaffa
The weather was gorgeous and the beach was crowded with families spending the day together. A lot of people spoke English which made our (frequent) requests for directions easier, but there was often still a lot lost in translation. (I was fairly certain that we were all promised one free avocado on our flight in, but somehow that never materialized.)

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Old Jaffa

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David Shamay Yemenite Jewelry

As the sun began to set, the Sabbath was over and twinkling lights began to light up the alley ways. The twisting streets led to unexpected light spilling onto pathways as shops began to reopen. the shop above was full of gorgeous jewelry made by a silversmith from Yemen. He was in a line of silversmiths that had been making jewelry for 8 generations.  The friendly saleswomen called us into the shop and chatted with us like we were old friends. Apparently there are only around 100 Jews left in Yemen. They are being severely persecuted but the government refuses to allow them to leave and Israel is trying to find a way to bring them home.

Aidan was asked today if there was anything about the trip that was a highlight and he responded that it was one continual highlight.  I would agree, but that first night in Jaffa was fairly magical.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Manneken Pis

Brussels has a weird obsession with their fountain of a naked baby urinating into the basin. His picture was everywhere, as a marketing ploy and in tourist souvenirs. He was projected holding beer, pizza, and ice cream. He was plastered on the Coca-Cola machine. I must not have been the intended target audience because I found it a little off putting. Who wants to buy pizza from a naked peeing baby? Kind of like that movie, Ratatouille, where you are supposed to sympathize with the rat that wants to be a chef, and all I could think about was how gross little rat feet in the kitchen would be. 

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La Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium.
By the time that we arrived in Belgium for our ten hour layover, we had already been traveling for a while. We were bleary eyed from an overnight flight so our first stop was for Belgium waffles. It was super fun to have Belgium waffles in Belgium, but they actually weren't any better than sourdough waffles at home. Our second stop was for coffee and hot chocolate. Both were fantastic.

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The Tin Tin store.
It was raining and cold. Chloe was carrying about six books in her backpack that weighed more than she did, but she never complained. I wanted to complain about how cold my feet were, but since the kids were being so brave, I kept it to myself, mostly anyway.

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We have no problem acting like weird tourists.
We ate lunch in the top a building with wide windows overlooking the square below. We ate Belgium fries and ketchup. They came in huge paper cones topped with mayonnaise and ketchup. They were not amazing, but there was a heater by my seat that I snuggled with until my feet thawed out.

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The view from the frites shop.
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 La Grand Place
We basically walked in circles around the main central square ducking into all the souvenir and chocolate shops. (Did I mention all the huge chocolate creations of the Manneken Pis?!)
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This is Phil, and he's going to church.
Chloe was on a mission to name every pigeon that she saw. It was rather time consuming because we saw a lot of pigeons, and after a while she forgot who was who and would have to rename them all.

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I have a thing for locks. And keyholes. And alleys.
We went back to the airport earlier than we needed to. Four hours of cold feet and naked baby viewing was about all that we could take. We celebrated the end of our visit to Brussels by nearly missing our train because we were having trouble reading the signs. We made a mad dash and jump into the train while the whistle was blowing and doors were about to close. We gratefully sank into open seats-until the lady with the hat, and authority, kicked us out for mistakenly being in first class.

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This is my favorite picture from Brussels. Phil comes in a close second.  
Aidan and I promptly fell asleep on the windowsill overlooking the airplanes while we waited for another overnight flight into Israel. We didn't realize that there were beautifully comfy couches just a few meters away. But at least we had bellies full of chocolate and fries, and warm feet at last.